How to Fix the Migrant Crisis? Federally, Start Treating It Like One.

Andrea Hebel

Staff Writer


New York City is facing an influx of migrants. In the last two years, 175,000 new immigrants have arrived in the city from the southern border, according to the New York City Council. Nearly 67,000 of these migrants are in the city’s care. They are arriving in the city in a variety of ways – perhaps most publicly from Texas, by way of bus sent by Governor Greg Abbott. According to NPR, Abbott has so far sent about 20,000 migrants to New York.

This influx of migrants is being broadly billed as a crisis. And it is true that the city’s resources are overwhelmed by the sudden, massive increase. As NPR reports, the size of the city’s homeless shelter system has nearly doubled from when Mayor Eric Adams took office in 2022. Hospitals saw more than 30,000 visits by migrant individuals and families in 2023. And a number of high-profile crimes committed by newly arrived individuals have created the perception, spread by conservative media like The New York Post, that the city is rapidly becoming unsafe.

175,000 people in two years is a staggering number, especially considering that the city notoriously lacks affordable housing. CNN reports that NYC’s public school system has added over 30,000 new immigrant students in the last two years, many of whom live in temporary housing with their families. However, as The New York Times reports, the crime wave being touted by conservative media isn’t actually supported by data. In fact, violent crime rates across the city have actually decreased.

Importantly, one cannot blame this “crisis” on the migrants themselves. It is not their fault that our country carries a reputation as a place where they can come to leave behind instability and pursue the “American dream.” It is not a crime to want to be reunited with family or to seek to live in a place that touts its values of freedom and prosperity around the world. And it is an international human right to be able to apply for asylum, which can only occur upon arrival at the U.S. border. 

And it certainly is not their fault that the real crisis is a convoluted immigration system that, despite our country’s rich history as a nation of immigrants, has been broken for decades. 

Mayor Adams and the city of New York are trying. They have not backed down on their legally codified promise to house all city residents, citizens or not. Their solutions are not perfect – single migrants are only guaranteed housing for 30 days and families for 60, and many of the shelters are now makeshift – but they are a start. As The New York Times reports, the city is expected to spend $12 billion on programming to support new arrivals over the next three years. They are trying to think creatively and proactively. The city has created a new agency to coordinate arrivals and an Asylum Application Help Center to assist migrants in filing for asylum, which must be done within a year of their arrival.

But the city cannot possibly respond effectively to 175,000 migrants if those people have no way to work, which they cannot do without work authorization. And work permits are hard to come by, even after recent efforts by the Biden Administration to streamline processes for certain groups, as the New York Times continues. Long wait times for private assistance, let alone public, make even these services inaccessible to many. 

This is where the brunt of the city’s struggle lies. If migrants are not even given permission to support themselves, how can they be expected to thrive independently? 

The city is starting to roll out cash assistance programs that will alleviate some of this burden on migrants, as Politico reports, but even local programs are suffering from the same partisan criticism as federal policy. And really, the crisis itself is federal. As long as Congress refuses to pass effective immigration policy for the sake of  partisan fighting, as I wrote about for The Envoy last month, this problem will never be solved. More funding and resources must be put towards bolstering immigration officers and border officials, expanding immigration legal services, improving access to resources in migrants’ native languages, and providing English classes. Until this occurs, the same conditions that create the “scary immigrant” motif used by right wing fear mongers will continue to befall New York.

Image courtesy of Getty Images

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